Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Burdens Most Americans Ignore

“I fear they do not know us,” Adm. Mullen said of the nation’s civilians. “I fear they do not comprehend the full weight of the burden we carry or the price we pay when we return from battle.”

Call me antiquated but I grew up actively listening to first-hand accounts of the World War Two era from people who lived through the events leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor, during the war, and as the dust settled with the defeat of Germany and Japan. I would be echoing very tired clichés saying that it was a horrific yet incredible time that saw both the absolute worst of the human species and our best as we sacrificed much to defeat fascism. The problems with clichés is that they are essentially true, while people all over the world gave everything to make the world a better, safer place it is the stories of those here in the United States that I know best.

Looking from our vantage point back to that ear it is very hard to fathom the collective state of mind of Americans before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The horrors of the First World War were still very much alive back then and with the nation still overwhelmed with surviving the Great Depression very few people wanted to get involved with another European war. I guess the world was viewed as a much bigger place with two massive oceans safely separating the North American continent from the bloody carnage going on over there.

All that changed the day after December 7th, 1941 with the news of the Japanese attacks on the Hawaiian Island, men who a few days before wanted nothing to do with war found themselves standing in lines for hours in an effort to sign up and defend their country. My own grandfather attempted to enlist twice but was declare “4F” both times because he was completely deaf in one ear after suffering through a severe case of the mumps as a child.

During those uncertain years, Americans pulled together in ways that even now have become legendary. Everyone sacrificed whether it was the men who fought overseas or those who stayed home working in the factories, organizing scrap metal collections, buying war bonds, or just dealing with the hardships of rationing and shortages. It was truly a unique, unselfish age in American history where everyone shared in the adversity the situation demanded.

Wow, things have really freaking changed since then! Where once we had a unified response earning the people who lived through those years the nickname the “Greatest Generation”, we now have a hollow, self-absorbed nation full of squabbling idiots. Even after attacks arguably worse than Pearl Harbor with only a few exception the vast majority of “patriotic” Americans have decided to sit out this war and just cheer from the sidelines.

Poor Winston will have to excuse me but never in the American history have so few suffered the mental and physical injuries for so many who while being all for fighting the latest evil horde out to destroy the republic and defile our woman just never found the local recruiting office themselves.

Now you would never really know there was such a huge military-civilian gap if all you looked at were the magnetic yellow ribbons adoring the bumpers of American SUV’s. An entire damn industry has arose so civilians can buy placate that almost non-existent conscious nagging them when they just happen to be caught in traffic as a military funeral procession slowly drives by.

Living here in the South, which prides itself on having true blue patriotism encoded in its very DNA you would figure we would be bending over backwards to support the members of the Armed Forces and their families. Now since all things are relative yeah, I would have to say that on average goodwill and pride towards the troops is overabundant but it pretty much stops there.

Case in point was at my last job where two times a month I had to work Saturday and Sunday, which often conflicted with my weekend National Guard duties. This was a manufacturing plant and my associates loved mouthing off about the evil bad guys and how super-duper great our glorious troops were at blowing them up. Their support of the troops last only as long as they did not have to cover my weekend shift. See my service to the country at a time of war disturbed their hunting and fishing time and they resented the Hell out of it.

Being an astute observer of the ever worsening American condition I have come to accept this “Patriotism Light” as just another symptom of madness marking the decline of the United States as a great power. American patriotism has become a form of Japanese Kabuki dance where style and appearances triumph actual form and function. The country can go to war and as long as the majority does not have to send off their kids or pay higher taxes, they will gladly wave their tiny, Chinese made, American flags during parades and shed tears at the singing of the national anthem but do not ask any more of them.

The following is a NPR report from today on this very subject:

Veterans, Civilians Don't See Eye To Eye On War

Veterans and the general public have different views on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the value of military service and even the subject of patriotism, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center.

The United States has never seen a moment like this one, with sustained combat for a decade, and a small fraction of American men and women in uniform, the Pew Center says.

"At any given time in the past decade, only about one half of 1 percent of the public has been on active duty in the military," says Paul Taylor, who edited the Pew study. He contrasts that number to another generation. "At the height of World War II, nearly 9 percent were on active duty."

'Patriotism Light'

Pew interviewed 4,000 veterans and civilians and found that the civilians largely agree that soldiers and their families are bearing much of the sacrifice of the two wars. So Taylor says Pew asked whether it's fair that the military is making the sacrifices when the public is not — or whether it's just part of being in the military.

"The public says, 'You know what? It's just part of being in the military,'" Taylor says.

He says that answer gets at the title of the study: The Military-Civilian Gap. That gap even extends to whether you'll recommend that a young person serve in uniform. Eight in 10 veterans say they would suggest a military career; just half of the civilians would.

Mac Owens, a professor at the Naval War College and a Marine platoon leader during the Vietnam War, says that amounts to what's been called "patriotism light" – the idea, he says, "that it's real easy for folks to praise the troops and thank them for their service, but turn around and say, 'But my kid's not going in the military.'"

Those ritual forms of patriotism — bumper stickers and yellow ribbons and greeting troops at airports — don't require sacrifice. Contrast that with World War II when all civilians sacrificed, at least through rationing. What's different today is the only civilians affected are the spouses and family members of those who serve. And more and more, the military is becoming something of a family business, says Owens and other experts. Many officers say fathers or uncles have served before them.

A Sacrifice Others Aren't Making

But putting on that uniform and serving during the past decade has taken its toll.

More than one-third of those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan say they've suffered from post-traumatic stress, whether or not they were diagnosed. That's why, the study says, nearly half of those coming home from those wars say it's been hard adjusting to civilian life.

"There's a very heavy psychological and emotional component here," Taylor says. "They've had strains in their family life, frequent outbursts of irritability."

Among those veterans polled, grueling and repeated deployments reflect a love of country. Two-thirds see themselves as more patriotic than other Americans. That doesn't surprise Owens.

"The military guy is saying, 'Well, I put on the uniform and I subject myself and my family to all these sorts of things, so yeah, I guess I am,'" he says.

The vast majority of those civilians polled acknowledge that the troops are bearing a large burden. As for sacrifice by the rest of the nation? Fewer than half think the American people have had to do much.


Cloudia said...

THEY are the real 1%

Warm Aloha from Honolulu;

Comfort Spiral

> < } } ( ° >

Nance said...

You know where I stand as a military spouse and mother to active duty service family. Please allow me to use this excellent post to draw attention to the automatic cuts to Veteran's benefits, health care especially, and to retiree pay that will kick in in December if Congress does not pass the legislation put forth by the Super Committee. The deadline approaches for the committee's program. The deadline for Congress to act on it is late December.

Thank you for this post.

Will "take no prisoners" Hart said...

The (3 now) wars have rapidly become an "out of sight out of mind" thing. Between the lack of universal participation and the media's now seeming lack of interest, it doesn't even lead if it bleeds anymore. Sadly.

Windsmoke. said...

I reckon even if the Japanese didn't bomb Pearl Harbour America would have been dragged kicking and screaming into WW2 by another disastrous event :-).

Mike said...

Ron, its 2 am and I have been working on a reply for a good little while now. Let me just say thanks for posting this intelligent deconstruction of the military -civilian gap. it's an important topic, one too often overlooked. I will probably chime back in later.

Mike the retired Navy guy.

Lowandslow said...

Excellent, excellent, excellent!!!!


Beach Bum said...

Cloudia: One day I will visit those warm and green islands.

Nance: I have little faith in those spineless morons polishing seats in Congress. By biggest fear Nance is that we have passed that proverbial line of no return and things will only get worse. It is my opinion that Congress is just a reflection of the greater general public and that this spoiled and banal public does not really care about anything as long as their lifestyle is left alone.

My one hope is the generation of kids called the Millennial Generation, I've read a few things suggesting no change will come to this country until they take control.

Will: Absolutely, and I think the situation is far worse. I don't believe the corporate types want news of the wars broadcast.

Windsmoke: I do believe the United States would have eventually joined the war had Pearl Harbor somehow not happened on December 7th. Not only would the Japanese eventually have to take out the American fleet to further their military goals, personally I think that Hitler himself would have attacked the United States in some way since Roosevelt would have never allowed Britain to fall.

Mike: No problem. Was driving around Saturday morning and heard the story mentioned, it blew away the Friday Flash Fiction story I was working on and my one issue with the post was that because of chores I was unable to sit right down and write.

LowandSlow: Thanks!

Sue H said...

A very interesting piece! As you may imagine, across this side of the 'pond' American news sometimes translates differently.

Here in the UK, while the politicians debated and the media sparred with each other over the conflicts in Afghanistan and similar areas of conflict, it was left to the public conscience to mourn repatriated troops. A small town in Wiltshire led the way.

A recent returning parade for local troops through my local town was well attended, much to the embarrassment of the local civic dignitaries who hastily donned their regalia to save face and stand with the crowds.

It has been interesting to see the military being deluged with care packages from a grateful public wanting to do their bit to support the troops - the military is not too happy about this extra workload it has had to shoulder!

Mr. Charleston said...

The biggest problem here was no visible body bags early on. Since the war was pretty well illicit in the first place, the Bush administration made it a policy to not allow any photos or visibility of dead soldiers either coming home or on the battlefield. Therefore, no public outrage. After ten years, the wars are now just another TV series.

John McElveen said...

I Salute you and ALL who have gone before and all who will follow!

Thanks Brother! Thanks!


Pixel Peeper said...

So true, Beach.

When we started the war in Iraq, what sacrifices were asked of us? None.

All I remember: "Be Americans. Go shopping."

lime said...

i am grateful for the service of the men and women who have enlisted and served with honor. i admit if my son were to announce his intention to enlist i'd be less than excited...mainly because i don't trust the ones who got our military into 2 wars in the first place or the ones who are responsible to care for our men and women once they come home wounded physically or emotionally.

this article does challenge me though to what my own responsibility is and although that may be uncomfortable it's a good thing.

Randal Graves said...

If you're trying to get me to join the army, not everyone will have a drill sergeant as cool as Sgt. Hulka, sir.

Glen said...

It's no different over here.

Ranch Chimp said...

I actually read this yesterday Bum, but had to run before I could comment ... and Good Afternoon Bum! ... First of all, an excellent posting! I havent had much thought on the general population's thought's on any of this or followed it accept in my Veteran's Spotlight series, whatever I point out there. What really got me thogh in recent year's is the way our so called representative's have dealt with our vet's which I have pointed out in my posting's over and again ... even all our major metro area's coast to coast Bumm is saturated with veteran's ... I never could find one reason why even one vet should be without a roof over their head's, NOT ONE! I could go on and on with how these pansy parasite's even use vet's and our military on various angle's, I will shut the Hell up so none of yur reader's have to hear just what the Hell I think of these worthless fuck's (Washington) ... yeah ... I still have some active member's in my familia, one niece (US Army) Afghanistan, one niece (US Army) Germany ... a nephew that was a Marine Corp Sgt, 3 tour's in Iraq, he's now home and working for a subdivision of a major defense company outside Dallas. Later Bum ....

Beach Bum said...

Sue: There is such a disconnect between American civilians and the troops its bizarre. I frankly feel the United States needs to bring back the draft to force a more balanced structure between the poor families whose kids join far more often than the middle class and rich folks.

Mr. Charleston: Yeah, and like I mentioned to Sue,bringing back the draft would start a peace movement that would make the one for Vietnam look small.

John: Thanks buddy! But I am long since retired, the guys and gals serving now are catching Hell.

Pixel: Yeah, I remember that "Go shopping" comment. That was a sad day in our history.

Lime: My issue is with the people who want us to fight and kill anyone who does not listen to the American Empire but will not send their own children to fight.

The best example on that one is Mitt Romney, none of his five, healthy, boys have joined the great "Clash of Civilizations" that the neocons swear we are fighting with people of the Islamic faith.

I fully support our troops and think they have literally moved heaven and earth but that it time to come home.

Randal: I actually got in serious trouble telling some asshole army captain that none of my children will ever join the service. I told him I had done a total of 21 years of service while thousands of college-age pussy republicans could never find their way to a recruiting station.

My family has done enough service for the United States, that it would take an alien invasion for me to go back into the uniform.

Glen: Yeah, we are being played by the corporations.

Ranch: My own Congressman, the dickless Joe Wilson, talks a lot of trash about supporting the troops but has a very spotty record on his actual voting record for their issues. Lindsay Graham is even worse, he does waht John McCain tells him.